Part One: Chapter One
Gun d’fhuair mi lorg na h-eal’ air an t-snàmh,
‘S cha d’fhuair mi lorg mo chòineachain.
I found the wake of the swimming swan,
I found no trace of my stolen babe.
-from “An Cóineachan” (the Fairy Lullaby)
Carolyn leaned heavily against a worn oak desk. The cash register to her right was napping, wrapping itself in the thin layer of dust that covered every surface left disused for even an hour in the fusty second-hand store. The faded books in the stack on her left waited patiently to be shelved with their fellows, ignored but not neglected; Carolyn would get to them by the end of the night.
At that moment she was leafing through a photo book of lake country, her chin perched in the palm of one hand with her elbows resting on the edge of the desk. Her other hand clutched a pen as she flipped the pages with a careless snap.
The playlist that spilled through the store was an eclectic mix of Carolyn’s favourites. Punk followed banjo music which flowed into a string of motown hits. When the last notes of the final song drifted into nothingness, she was too tired to notice.
Her head wavered on her arm and her eyes drooped. “Hò-bhan, hò-bhan, Goiridh òg O, my love was not where I left him,” she hummed, oblivious to her own voice and the symbol she had started to doodle down the side of the book. A long wavy line traced its way down the length of the page in thickening black ink. A second line, separate at the top of the page, gradually overlapped and then appeared to twist itself in ever-tightening spirals around the first until the two ends connected at the bottom of the page in a crude imitation of an intricate v-shaped charm.
Carolyn’s chin teetered dangerously on its balance point, spilling long strands of her chestnut hair across her forehead. Her large hazel eyes flew open and her humming stopped.
“Damn” she said, examining her handiwork. She wasn’t nearly as irritated at herself for defacing the store’s property as for drawing that particular symbol. It seemed to spill from her pen independent of any conscious thought. She resented that the shape stuck in her mind after so many years.
She slapped the heavy covers of the book closed and grabbed the rest of the books that needed to be shelved. The desk groaned as she lifted the pile from its wizened top.
Carolyn didn’t need to think much as she distributed the books to their rightful places. The layout of the store made sense to her in a way that was second nature. Aside from the owner, she was the only one who could boast of this intuitive knowledge of Pendham’s Used Books & Oddities. Most people, customers and the few staff alike, got lost in the small store with its cache of very hidden treasures. They were used to box stores with logic and labels to lead them, and couldn’t understand the owner’s distribution of stock foremost by mood, then by author.
The store was created as a shelter and a maze. People who fought the feeling of getting lost, the notion of browsing, never felt quite comfortable among its shabby shelves.
Carolyn walked to the Regional Interest section with her drawn-in pictorial. The section, her favourite, was tucked into the back corner of the small space and had the most eclectic collection of items in the store.
Her eyes scanned the piles of mismatched travel stock in this “catch-all” section of the store and she shuffled her book, with much difficulty, into a pile of pictorials in similar condition. It was a beautiful area, she thought, running her fingers across the white-capped water on the cover of one of the display books, but then caught sight of the watch on her wrist. She ran through the to-do list in her mind. Dust, lights, lock up, home… mail, calculus, alarm, bed. It would be a late night, but her last late night for a while. After tomorrow, high school would be all but finished. She allowed herself a satisfied smile and then walked back to the desk, stifled a yawn, and took out the dust rags and wood polish.
© Sarah E Lund 2011